I testified last week against the City of Milwaukee in Betker V. the City of Milwaukee. The case was about whether or not an officer deliberately lied in an affidavit to obtain a no-knock search warrant. But it was also about accountability. The officer, Rodolfo Gomez, is awaiting trial for assaulting a handcuffed prisoner. He had a history of being arrested for minor crimes but was still a Milwaukee cop. The affidavit was so full of misleading statements that the jury deliberated for only a couple hours before coming back with a unanimous verdict.
I am glad the jury got it right because this could have been bad. Bad for the plaintiffs and even worse for the SWAT team that served the warrant.
The plaintiffs in this case we're home and asleep in their bed when the SWAT team came through two separate entrances into their house. The target? A woman with a 24 year old credit card fraud conviction with no criminal history since then. The complaint "Felon in Possession of a Handgun." A complaint made by an angry sister. The target's husband, Richard Betker, responded to the noise and confusion with a gun in hand ready to repel the intruders. Luckily for the police officers Betker did not fire his weapon. Luckily for Betker, he was only shot in the shoulder and in the hand, losing half of one finger.
I know it seems wrong to say Betker was lucky, but he was standing behind a wall sticking his arm around the corner gun in hand and did not realize it was the police. I know from experience that when you serve a high-risk warrant people are often confused and respond as if being attacked. If Betker had responded with a high powered rifle, which he also had available, we might have seen line of duty deaths and the death of Richard Betker. All of this because one officer couldn't be truthful in his affidavit.
I cannot fault the officers of the SWAT team after reading the hundreds of pages of documentation on this case. I have looked down the barrel of my own gun at close range in the hands of a suspect I was trying to arrest, so I have some sense of what the officers felt at the scene. I wonder if the officers involved in serving this No-knock warrant are angry with Gomez for the position he put them in. They should be. As an investigator in internal affairs I saw other investigators, and sometimes the chief, give a pass to officers and either not ask the hard questions or condone conduct that should have drawn some type of corrective discipline. I wonder if this is the case with Gomez. If so, had Richard Betker shot and killed a Milwaukee police officer the Milwaukee police department would also be to blame. As it is, the jury is sending a message to them also; a $1,000,000 message.
We think we're doing officers a favor when we let their misconduct avoid accountability. But the truth is we are only feeding them rope to hang themselves with later.
The city of Milwaukee will pay out one million dollars in taxpayers money. It could have been worse. It could've been paying for funerals for officers and benefits to their survivors. The disciplinary process may not change people but it can often change behavior if it is fairly applied. I hated being disciplined when I screwed up on the job, but I hated it a lot worse when I stood near the casket of an officer killed in the line of duty.
There will always be consequences for unethical behavior. Somebody will always pay the price. I am sorry Richard Betker has such severe injuries. He does not deserve them.
I am just glad it wasn't an officer's life.